The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ defence has a big question mark looming over it this week as the team prepares for the 110th Grey Cup game, this Sunday in Hamilton.
Is Biggie in, or is he out?
While the team will not confirm it, one only had to watch the star middle linebacker gingerly walking around the practice field on Tuesday to hazard a guess that Adam Bighill is not too likely to play this Sunday.
If that’s indeed the case, the Blue Bombers feel they have the manpower and talent to navigate the loss of their heart-and-soul tackling machine when they take on the Montreal Alouettes at Tim Hortons Field.
“We’ve got a deep group,” said veteran National linebacker Jesse Briggs, one of the men who helps give that Winnipeg linebacker crew its depth. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that can step in and do a job.”
“I’m confident either way.”
The Bombers weathered the loss of Bighill during last week’s Western Final. The hall-of-fame bound veteran went down with an injury during the first half of the team’s 24-13 win over the BC Lions, securing the team’s fourth straight appearance at the Grey Cup.
The three-time Most Outstanding Defensive Player needed help to get off the field. He left the stadium that night on crutches. Monday, he appeared in Hamilton, his right foot and leg stabilized in a walking boot. At Tuesday’s practice, that boot was gone, but Bighill was not a participant other than to carefully make his way around the field as the team went through its paces.
“Obviously, having Biggie out could hurt us but we’ll be just fine,” said running back Brady Oliveira, who then went on to laud the rest of the Winnipeg linebacking crew.
“Guys have gotten opportunities throughout this season at the linebacker position,” said Oliveira. “Guys like Malik (Clements), guys like B-Cole (Brian Cole) stepping in and flying around and making plays has given us confidence going into this week, knowing that guys are very much capable of stepping in there and doing their job. Doing a good job and playing at a high level.”
Cole finished last week’s game with three defensive tackles and one quarterback sack. Clements had two tackles and two sacks of his own. The aforementioned Briggs chipped in with a tackle, as did another National, Shayne Gauthier. The Bombers’ defence persevered.
“We know what we need to do,” said Kyrie Wilson, a star at weak side linebacker for the Bombers this year, totalling 37 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in 2023. “We’ve pretty much been together for a long time. We have good relationships and we have good chemistry.”
Clements, who may well be the starter in the middle on Sunday, spent the second half of the season as Bighill’s understudy on the depth chart after starting the first six games of the year at weak side, in place of Wilson, who was on the injured list at the time. Weak side, middle, wherever. Clements says he is not fussy and he’s just looking forward to chipping in wherever he can, including Grey Cup Sunday.
“Any spot on defence is good for me because I love to hit people,” he said with a smile.
All of the men involved in the rotations and possible permutations of a Bombers’ linebacking corps facing the possibility of being without Bighill come Sunday were all in agreement on three things. That’s something that should not come as a surprise, not from a team that continually illustrates its consistency both on and off the field.
Those three things? One, that they would miss Bighill. A lot. Two, that they would be up to the task of taking up any slack. And, three, that is sure is nice to have Bighill with them, whatever role he will take on this week and on game day.
“He’s like another coach, always making sure we’re doing the right thing,” said Wilson, who had three tackles and a sack in last week’s win over the Lions.
“He’s a guy that I know I can call up at one in the morning, two in the morning, if I have any type of questions,” said Clements. “He’s there for me. He’s a great leader for sure.”
“Whatever happens with him he’s gonna find a way to help us out,” said Briggs.
“It obviously means the world to have him here.”